Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
For the second week in a row City Council will take place on a Wednesday night, because Tuesday was the last night of Passover. Here’s the Cover It Live chat, and the live blog will appear here at 7:00ish.
Last week no one chatted up the Cover It Live board. Invite your friends tonight and get a discussion going in that echo chamber.
7:06: The meeting hasn’t started yet, but there lots of people here to protest the sign moratorium that’s on the agenda–the council may vote to send it to the econ. dev. committee for a hearing. Ironically, there are a lot of signs in the audience, including the big “Worcester for Section 19” banner.
7:17: The Council is celebrating Rainbow Child Development Center. April 10 is named after them now.
7:19: Eddy calls it a “most deserving agency.” He also calls it an important economic engine for the city.
7:20: Toomey says she’s known their work since she was on School Committee, and the group gives their students a head start for when they start school.
7:18: Palmieri echos Eddy and Toomey. J.O’Brien says Eddy’s day job is advocating for affordable child/day care.
7:22: We’re taking the sign ordinance up first, out of order. J.O’Brien explains the rules regarding citizens speaking to the council (focusing on when they can speak–in this case, after the council goes first).
7:24: Rushton says that the new ordinance that was asked for is not contained in what’s in front of them for debate. He suggests they either vote up or down on it tonight, or hold it so the administration can write up the ordinance that the council asked for (he says it doesn’t address the “temporary” moratorium that they wanted).
7:26: Julie Jacobson is here for M.O’Brien, she says that the admin is drafting an ordinance about temporary signs for a later date (April 27).
7:26: Haller has some clarifying questions. She wants to know what happens if they vote to uphold the planning board recommendations–who’s affected by it–and what happens if they hold it.
7:27: Solicitor Moore says that zoning ordinances are effective the day they’re voted in, but reach retroactively to when they’re advertised. This would relate back to building permits back to March 15.
7:30: Haller wants to know what happens if they hold or if they file. Holding trumps all, filing means it all goes away. Haller says there’s confusion about what the council should/can do.
7:33: Smith says this has been a contentious issue. He says we “can’t effectively shut down business in the city because of signs.” He doesn’t think having a unspecified time length moratorium sends a bad message, and has examples of business owners (or potential business owners) who heard misinformation and didn’t open a business because they thought they couldn’t put up a sign. He motions to file this tonight “essentially cutting off all chance of a moratorium” and then have the admin write up a new specific ordinance for signage that the city council and subcommittee can debate.
7:36: Eddy says he’s “a little uneasy with this one.” He wants to know if they’re currently issuing sign permits today. Can one be obtained today?
7:37: Joel Fontane from the city’s Planning department (different than the Planning Board/ZBA) says yes, you can. He says many sign types are not subject to the moratorium. Eddy wants clarification on what can and can’t be obtained. Fontane says any sign type, whether subject to the moratorium or not, and ones that are come with a warning saying this could be illegal later on (dating back to March 15).
7:39: Eddy asks if they file the motion like Smith suggests, then are things back to normal. Fontane says it depends on the proposal. Eddy says we’re unsure why we need this if we’re only two weeks out from the admin giving a new recommendation. Fontane says this proposal is for a six month moratorium, not just two weeks. He says it allows more time to consider the new proposed ordinance coming out April 27.
7:42: Eddy wants clarification from the Jacobson. She says the ordinance up tonight is originally from the council, when Lukes (I think) wanted the planning board to make a less restrictive ordinance from something they originally brought to the council. She points out that the one up today is not originally from the administration, but from the council. She clarifies that if the six month moratorium is voted in tonight, they’ll still look at a new ordinance from the City in April.
7:45: Eddy says he’ll support Smith’s motion to file, and he’s happy to hear that the admin is working quickly to come up with a different solution in late April.
7:45: Toomey has a question on the digital sign aspect. She says there’s a misunderstanding of what a digital sign display is (some people think it includes lighting) and she asks for illustrations on the report. She says businesses “we’re basically telling businesses coming into the City of Worcester” and she’s “More than happy to support Councilor Smith.”
7:47: Petty says Clancy said a couple weeks ago that “moratoriums are not good” (Clancy isn’t here tonight). Petty asks how many digital and non-accessory signs the board has approved over the last couple years. Fontane says since Aug. 2009 the ZBA has considered 9 signs, 3 digital, 2 digital billboards, and has denied a digital billboard and had another one withdrawn because they were about to deny it. Petty clarifies that as “basically, you haven’t approved any.” Fontane agrees. Petty says he’ll support Smith’s motion too “because there’s basically no need for this.”
7:49: Palmieri asks what the restrictions are for these billboard. He thought jurisdiction came from the state. Fontane says the City has a review authority through the ZBA, and the Outdoor Advertising Board of the state. They’re independent–one approval doesn’t assume the other one–but both are needed to approve. Fontane says the state has a pilot program to allow digital billboards on a special basis, and two were allowed in Worcester, but one pulled out and the City denied the other one. Palmieri says the “fact is we haven’t reached the threshold through even the pilot program for digital billboards.” Palmieri says it’s odd that we’re debating putting up digital billboards when we apparently can’t do that because the pilot program hasn’t even been completed.
7:53: Haller gives a history lesson. She says the ZBA was frustrated in knowing that the City was working on a new sign ordinance so they didn’t want business taking advantage of the looser laws, which is where Lukes’ moratorium came from; to make sure there was plenty of time to figure out an ordinance without worrying about any loophole or future law-breaking sign going up before the City can get its new law in the books.
7:54: She says she supported the moratorium request back then. She says that with the City’s commitment to get a new ordinance drafted and with Rushton saying the econ. dev. committee looking at it soon, she’ll vote with filing it, but warns we could see sign pollution in between now and then.
7:56: Toomey wants to know about mobile billboards (billboards on vehicles, or being towed). Fontane says there’s no specific regulation regarding those at this time.
7:57: A group in the audience lines up to speak. J.O’Brien asks for anyone who’s here to speak in favor of the ordinance.
7:58: Leonard Ciufredo (former ZBA member) is here to speak in favor. He says this is not anti-business or politically motivated. “It’s simply a request that we step back and let the administration do their job.” The recommendation came from him to Lukes at the end of a ZBA meeting where she was in the audience.
7:59: He says there was chatter in the business community that a sign ordinance change was coming, and their was a push to put up signs that might be non-compliant with the future ordinance. The ban came from stopping that from happening. He says this doesn’t pertain to every sign.
8:01: Ralph _____ (he asked that I don’t give his last name, but it’s audible on the video reply). He says in this economy it’s ridiculous to have a moratorium at this point and local business can’t compete with national/international chains. He says this moratorium “scares the hell out of everybody.” He says signs are important to small business, and a moratorium is “anti-small business.” He says digital signs can be aesthetic, but places with tons of Budweiser signs draped across isn’t. He also says the Centrum (DCU Center) is a hypocritical situation, since the City earns money for a lot of the non-accessory signs that are attached to it.
8:06: Mike ____ is here from the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is here. He says some issues they have a problem with is that it’s anti-small business. He says putting a moratorium on digital signs does hurt small business, and disagrees that there’s been “a run” to get signage up before a new ordinance comes out. He also says 95% of the digital signs comply with City law. He says that this issue has generated more response than the tax rate, which he says is “telling.”
8:08: Andy Serrato from Serrato signs speaks against the ordinance. He says he trusts that there will be a new ordinance out in a few weeks, and is comfortable that there will be a piece of paper out that he can look at and point to to say whether or not he build a specific sign for a customer. As of now there’s nothing for him to see, which he’s not comfortable with.
8:09: More people want to speak. Robert _____ owns Big Bob’s liquors, and plans to open another one, and says there’s been nothing but “headaches.” He said the City didn’t give him a sign permit today.
8:11: Lukes says she was never aware that anyone perceived this as “anti-business or anti-sign.” She says the ZBA has been very fair in their past signage rulings. She says the moratorium came from a very clear place. She admits six months might be too long of a moratorium, but she thinks one is needed even until June just to sort it all out. She says it’s very clear that people are against this, but there was no organization of anyone or group in favor of a sign moratorium. She wants to hold this under privelidge because two members of the Council aren’t here to vote (Clancy and Germain).
8:14: She reads some rhetoric against the moratorium. One writer akins civilization’s growth to having signage, and another says the Council is “arrogant” and snubbing the free market.
8:15: She brings up an example of a digital sign request that would obscure Union Station. J.O’Brien reminds her that if something is held under privilege then that ends all conversation. She continues to clarify that the moratorium doesn’t apply to most other signage except for digital signs and billboards. She wonders how many digital signs on sides of buildings on Main St. are too many. She asks for this to be held under privilege. It will be the first order of business next week. That trumps Smith’s motion to file.
8:18: J.O’Brien clarifies that no rules have changed because of the hold. People can still apply for a digital sign permit, but it will still come with a warning that a future ruling could ban that type of sign if the moratorium is held up at next week’s meeting.
8:19: Petty clarifies that there’s no reason to hold because it’s clear it won’t pass next week. The crowd streams out.
8:26: We’re talking CSX and its affect on the city. Lukes wants a masterplan. She motions that the City Manager develop a masterplan in 30 days that will bring together all the little masterplans smattered throughout the city. She wants it to go to the econ dev committee.
8:28: Petty clarifies what Lukes is saying. It’s clarified that the motion is to come back with the idea of the master plan and how it will be funded (she acknowledged that it could cost upwards of $500,000).
8:29: Petty wants to know about the Early Retirement Incentive Program. He wants a report on if it can be implemented for city and public school employees.
8:31: Palmieri is talking CSX and a trailer truck traffic ban in Mulberry Street between Shrewsbury and East Central Streets. He says the church up there already has problems with truck traffic, and it’ll only get worse. He wants Traffic and Parking to take it up quickly. He says he’s been speaking about this with Rep. Pedone.
8:33: Petty adds a friendly amendment to it. He wants a report back about if this is passed, what will the traffic impact be for the city. Palmieri says it’s as simple as diverting the traffic to go down Summer st. He adds that there’s probably an impact there with diesel trucks and the high-rise building as well.
8:36: Lukes wants to know the location of group homes, shelters and other residential sites, the number of residents, the purchase in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 of real estate for said housing by tax exempt entities, the purchase price and taxes lost as a result of the purchase. No discussion on that one. It just happens.
8:38: Petition on S&K Valet expanding their services is held for a later date.
8:39: We’re off the agenda and councilors are talking under suspension. Petty wants to know about the hydrant explosion in the Hillcroft area over the weekend and how much it cost. He also wants to know if a district councilor can be put on the airport commission. He says it’s important for the Council to have some oversight.
8:40: Clancy, Germain, Rushton (left with the flu) and Palmieri (walked out) are now all gone. We’re flirting with going below quorum here.
8:41: Haller is talking about airport funds, 2012 budget, and police and fire numbers. She says we’re already at the lowest level of police in years and an end to stimulus funds that have been used this year to prop up city services. She wants to know if FY11 decisions will take into account or affect FY12 situations. J.O’Brien adds that he wants to know about how budget cuts have affected community programs through the police department.
8:44: Haller talks about the murder last night on Hollis and Gates. She says the neighborhood has been traumatized. She says the body was left uncovered for too long after the police got there, and there are “questions about how the police handle these types of situations.” She wants a report from Chief Gemme about procedure in those situations.
8:45: Adjourned. Meetings are back to Tuesdays.